Key takeaways from Bangladesh
My mission in Bangladesh has been the longest in my 25-year humanitarian career, of which 19 years have been with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Having spent nearly three-and-a-half years in this beautiful country, I can safely say that my stay here has been characterized by not only its length, but also its intensity.
Two important milestones marked my tenure here as head of the ICRC delegation. The first was the Holey Artisan attack in July 2016 that shook everybody to the core.
Bangladesh has traditionally welcomed foreigners and embraced the cultural diversity. But the attack brought the fragility of this cordiality to the fore.
Although the country bounced back strongly after the Bangladeshi authorities responded firmly, it took time for many of us, including the ICRC in Bangladesh, to adjust and adapt to the new reality.
The second significant event was the Rakhine crisis of August 2017. I feel we collectively had a hard time reading all the signs of what lay ahead.
Hundreds and thousands of people were displaced from their homes in Rakhine in October 2016 amid an evolving hostile situation. Although humanitarian agencies like us had anticipated some displacements following the event and prepared ourselves with contingency plans, nobody could have foreseen the Cox’s Bazar of today.
It is so surreal to witness this city grow so humongous -- a size we never even imagined!
The ICRC was one of the first responders to come to the aid of those displaced from Myanmar to Bangladesh and their host communities.
Along with our partner, the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society (BDRCS), we continue to respond to the crisis and its consequences, staying one of the most relevant humanitarian agencies here.
We continue to deliver food, water, construction material, and essential household items, cater to the health and sanitation needs of people, reunite families torn apart due to the crisis, and help the tens of thousands of people in the Cox’s Bazar area in whichever way possible.
While upholding that the voluntary return of communities from Rakhine to Myanmar conducted under the right conditions and in a conducive environment is one of the sustainable solutions, we also understand that it is a complex process and will require time.
The crisis has deepened in its political and humanitarian complexity, compelling us to look into a rather protracted situation and adapt our responses according to the changing needs of people.
During my assignment here, I have experienced deep-rooted and widespread acceptance and working trust towards the ICRC. Thanks to our large-scale humanitarian services during the War of Independence in 1971, we were never forgotten.
This historical bond gave us a strong platform to further develop our dialogue with the authorities, who have continuously helped and supported our humanitarian endeavour to assist the most vulnerable people and communities.
We have been able to further engage in a discussion with the authorities about other pressing needs like livelihood activities for people, including both Bengali and tribal communities in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) since 2014 and detention conditions in the prisons since 2016.
Working on these important areas to make a positive change, we were able to initiate constructive and regular dialogue with the Bangladeshi authorities despite challenges.
I must also mention the work we do to support people with disabilities via the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralyzed (CRP) and several awareness initiatives to foster social inclusion.
The athletes with physical disabilities continue to amaze the world with their performance and push their limits to achieve the otherwise unachievable by participating in cricket and wheelchair basketball tournaments both home and abroad.
This year, we celebrate 70 years of the Geneva Conventions that embody a basic principle -- war must be waged within certain limits that are respected to preserve the lives and dignity of human beings. The key message that there ought to be a limit to human suffering has been carried forward by the ICRC all around the world, including in Bangladesh since 1971.
Today, 48 years after the war, the ICRC is proud to be present in Bangladesh, promoting international humanitarian law and working tirelessly for its people and communities.
From my experience of engaging with communities and authorities, I have found Bangladesh to be a very dynamic country, reflected in its buzzing streets and its fast-growing economy.
Robust social changes, including fostering debates and discussions among the youth, especially the BDRCS volunteers, further give me a strong hope for its continued success.
But it’s the smile of its people that is truly heartwarming and contagious!
It is also amazing to see Bangladesh collectively engage people in the sustainable development of the country. Despite being a populous country and comparatively low on natural resources, people take part in building the country actively, while helping themselves earn a living through laborious engagement.
For me, that sets Bangladesh apart. Such resilience despite the odds will remain one of my key takeaways from Bangladesh.
Ikhtiyar Aslanov is Head of ICRC delegation in Bangladesh.